Television, by its very nature, isn't very social. Yes, things have expanded beyond your living room with Twitter and Facebook interaction; but unlike a concert, or a movie opening, or sports, television is generally shared with as many people as can fit on your couch. That changed for a brief moment today when people all over the world joined together to watch the "Doctor Who" 50TH Anniversary Special the same time in theaters that it broadcast on TV.
We were one of the lucky ones able to snag a ticket to the Times Square screening thanks to the good people at BBC America, and particularly for a Whovian (Doctor Who fan to you regulars) such as ourselves, it was an experienced not to be missed. Fans dressed as The Doctor, his companions, or just wearing a themed T-shirt packed the theater and ones like it all over the country. Here's some features unique to the screening, as well as highlights from the landmark episode:
Silence Your Cell Phones Or Be Destroyed
Theatergoers were treated to two specially themed announcements unique to the theatrical experience. First, fan favorite creature Strax (Dan Starkey) took over the regular "silence your cell phones" speech, showing how he would destroy anyone who didn't comply. A highlight? Strax does love how we kill our little corn creatures, popping them while still in their skin, and loves to hear their screams as he consumes them.
The second announcement featured all three Doctors (Matt Smith, David Tennant, and John Hurt) jockeying for attention, telling audience members to put their 3-D glasses on, and plugging that the movie would be better if broadcast in 12-D. The most surprising thing about this message? It actually set up the interaction the three had in the episode proper, beyond being a fun little bit.
Let Zygons Be Zygons
The plot of the episode is far too complicated to explain in one paragraph, but it seamlessly weaved together an invasion of alien shape-shifters called Zygons, the marriage of Queen Elizabeth I, an epic Time War between the evil Daleks and the not-quite-evil Time Lords of the planet Gallifrey, and even found time for some quiet moments.
In fact, it was the quiet moments, the times when the episode settled down that stood out the most, but we'll get to that in a moment. What was most impressive was that writer Steven Moffat kept all of these balls in the air, yet managed to bring them together impressively by the end.
Throughout, Tennant and Smith had a delightfully combative rapport, amplified by John Hurt's straight man. Impressive then that they were all essentially playing the same character. Nowhere is this best exemplified than whenever the three would compare their not-at-all phallic sonic screwdrivers. Best comment from Hurt? "It's a screwdriver, what are you going to do, assemble a cabinet at him?"
We'll admit, we're suckers for when the use of 3-D is built into the plot. Here we're introduced to paintings that are actually moments trapped in time, leading to some truly impressive special effects on the big screen.
Speaking of which, we've waited eight years to see the epic Time War, and it did not disappoint. Looking back on how cheesy the effects on the show were even a few seasons ago, and the movie quality budget proves not just how much effects have improved, but how the worldwide popularity of the series has led to vast improvements in budget for the show.
There's Always A Way
This was the moment that brought most of the audience to tears. John Hurt's Doctor is presented with an impossible choice. He can left the Time War continue until it destroys the galaxy, who destroy the Time Lords and The Daleks alike. We know from the past eight years of the show that he destroys them, and Tennant and Smith even join Hurt to make the sacrifice easier. But it's Jenna Coleman's companion Clara who explains to them: there's always a way. Even when it seems impossible, you can always figure out a third choice, another way other than killing or destroying.
And they do, leading to the moment every Whovian has been waiting for since the special was announced:
"No... All Thirteen"
The biggest cheers in the theater weren't reserved for the reintroduction of David Tennant, or Billie Piper returning to the show in a new role. No, it was when the three Doctors bring all of his incarnations through the years together through the magic of digital editing. "All twelve of them?" asks a Gallifreyan. "No... All thirteen," says another, and we get a brief flash of Peter Capaldi, the recently announced thirteenth Doctor's eyes. The applause was tremendous.
He's The Caretaker
Pretty close in the applause department was the moment when fan favorite Tom Baker showed up as the old caretaker of the museum at the end, who may just also be a future incarnation of The Doctor. Interesting to note that Baker says he takes on many old favorite faces before the end of his life, scuttling a fan theory that The Doctor only having twelve regenerations. But seeing Baker, who many consider the Doctor interact with Matt Smith, the current Doctor was a special moment indeed.
Doctor Who 2: The Search For Gallifrey
We're left on an incredibly hopeful, beautiful note as The Doctor walks out into mist with all the other Doctors, saying he's now, finally going to head home. It's a tease for Matt Smith's last episode at Christmas, but also a nice note to go out on.
"...And I'm Colin Baker, The Sixth Doctor"
In theater, fans were treated to a ten minute "making of" special narrated by Colin Baker, the Sixth Doctor. It was a neat look behind the scenes that showed how Jenna Coleman has a male stunt double, everybody was terrified of letting secrets slip, and most importantly the 50th Anniversary cake was a big "50" with the TARDIS crashing into the zero.
In total, an epic anniversary episode, and one truly deserving of the title. Like the best, it paid homage to the past while looking forward to the future. Here's to 50 more years of "Doctor Who".